Tag Archives: context

What is an Apostle?

Our current writing project is a book entitled “Who Were the Apostles?”  This is also the study that we are engaging in on Wednesday evening Bible class.  Different than what we’ve done before, we’re going to post this book section-by-section for you to read while it’s being written!

We hope that you find it worthwhile, and that you don’t mind the large amount of footnotes that come with it.  🙂

What is an Apostle?

The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostolos, which means someone who is sent with a mission. It has inherent in its meaning the idea of being answerable to someone else, being sent by that person or group. The New Testament writers used this word and various forms of it over 100 times in their writings. It is used to describe the following people:

  • The 12 men chosen by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry (Luke 6:13-16).
  • Matthias, the man chosen by God to replace Judas Iscariot as an apostle of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:24-26).
  • Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul, who Christ chose to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21[1], Romans 1:1, 11:13).
  • Barnabas, a man sent out by the church at Jerusalem (Acts 11:22)[2], who later served as a missionary from the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-2, 14:14).
  • James, the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:19).[3]
  • Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:1).
  • The Old Testament prophets (Matthew 23:37).[4]
  • Epaphroditus, a man sent out to help Paul by the church in Philippi (Philippians 2:25).[5]
  • Men from various congregations who accompanied Titus to collect funds for the poor saints in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:23).[6]
  • Angels (Hebrews 1:14).[7]
  • Moses (Exodus 3:10, Acts 7:34).[8]

If we were to include all the Old Testament uses of this word from the Septuagint,[9] this study would swell in size and become very tedious.

As you can see from the examples given above, the word “apostle” has a broader meaning than simply “the twelve men chosen by Jesus Christ.” It means someone who was sent with a specific mission. The word usually is used to describe the relationship with the sender, as opposed to the one(s) to whom the person is sent.[10] For example, Paul frequently calls himself “an apostle of Jesus Christ.”[11] He uses the word “apostle” to describe the relationship to Jesus Christ—the one who sent (or “apostled”) him.

[1] The Greek word translated “send” in this verse is exapostello, which is a verb form of “apostle.”

[2] The Greek word translated “send forth” (KJV) in this verse is exapostello, which is a verb form of “apostle.” We could say Barnabas was “apostled” by the church in Jerusalem.

[3] There is some dispute about how this verse should be translated, considering there is no other evidence that James, the brother of the Lord, was ever chosen to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. The majority of translations render it similar to, “I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.” Hugo McCord, however, chose to translate it as “I saw no other apostle, but I did see James, the Lord’s brother.”

[4] “them which are sent” is from the Greek word apostello, the main verb form of “apostle.” The word in this verse is in the perfect tense in Greek, which means something that took place in the past, and continues to have effect up to the present. Thus, Jesus is speaking about men who tried to call the people back to repentance under the Old Testament.

[5] The word “messenger” (KJV) or “ambassador” (MLV) is the same word that is translated “apostle” elsewhere in the New Testament.

[6] The word “messenger” (KJV) or “ambassador” (MLV) is the same word that is translated “apostle” elsewhere in the New Testament.

[7] The phrase “sent forth” is a verb form of the word “apostle.” The angels were sent by God with a mission.

[8] The Septuagint, which was referenced by Stephen in Acts, uses the Greek word apostello, the main verb form of apostle.

[9] This is the Greek translation of the Old Testament (abbreviated as LXX), completed at least 150 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. It seems to be the version referenced most often by the apostles. Various verb forms of the word “apostle” appear in the LXX over 700 times.

[10] Romans 11:13 is one of only a few instances in the New Testament where this isn’t the case. In that passage, Paul describes himself as an “apostle of [belonging to] the Gentiles” (KJV, ASV, NAS, MLV). Some other translations render this as “apostle to the Gentiles” (ESV, NKJV), which would put the emphasis back on Paul’s being sent by Jesus Christ, and thus conforming to the common usage of this word. However, the Greek is properly translated as “of [belonging to] the Gentiles.”

[11] See the first verse of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus.

-Bradley Cobb

Bible Q&A – What was Paul’s “Thorn in the Flesh”?

Question: What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”?—anonymous.

Thanks for the question, and for reading! This is one of the most common questions that people ask. It’s often used as an example of what people call “unimportant questions.” But everything in the Bible is important. There’s no such thing as an “unimportant question” from the Bible.

Before we go on, it’s important that you come to this with an open mind and an open Bible. A lot of people say “no one knows what the thorn in the flesh is.” Others say, “It’s probably bad eyesight, but no one knows for sure.” We’re not concerned with what people have to say about it. We’re only interested in what the Bible has to say about it. So, open your Bible and let’s discover the answer for ourselves.

The “thorn in the flesh” is described in Second Corinthians 12:7-9. Please notice how Paul describes it:

  1. It is something physical (a thorn in the flesh).
  2. It is the “messenger of Satan.”
  3. Its purpose is to beat Paul (buffet, in King James, which literally means to hit or strike repeatedly. This indicates violence).
  4. It humbled Paul.
  5. It didn’t go away, even after Paul prayed about it.
  6. Paul calls it “my infirmities.”

Now, look back a chapter and let’s see what the context tells us. In chapter eleven, Paul is dealing with the Jews who were trying to undermine his efforts for Christ. These are frequently called “Judaizers” or “Judaizing teachers.” They were Jews who tried to take people away from Christ and back to the Law of Moses. Look what Paul says about them and their work against him.

  1. These Jews brought physical persecution (11:24-26, 32-33).
  2. These Jews are called “messengers” of Satan (11:13-15).
  3. These Jews attacked Paul with violence (11:24-26, 32-33).
  4. These persecutions kept Paul from exalting himself (11:30).
  5. These persecutions didn’t go away, even after Paul prayed about them (see the book of Acts).
  6. These persecutions from the Jews were called “my infirmities” (11:30, 12:5).

If you notice, everything that was said about Paul’s thorn in the flesh was said about the persecution Paul endured from the Jews—just one chapter earlier.

Based on the evidence and the context, Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was the continual persecution from the Jews who were trying to destroy Paul and the message of the gospel.

-Bradley S. Cobb